Nearly three out of four firefighters in Chandler, Ariz., have refused the H1N1 vaccine, according to news reports. The department delivered the nasal mist to only 50 firefighters and will return the remaining doses to Maricopa County health officials for redistribution.
According to Chandler Chief Jeff Clark, 30% to 50% of firefighters in the Valley of the Sun have accepted the H1N1 vaccine.
"Some chiefs have suggested the percentage would be higher if the H1N1 were an injection rather than the nasal mist," Clark said. "The fact is that they are taking a live virus, and it's completely up to the individual to take it or not."
Chandler firefighters appear to be divided between those who wanted the vaccine to avoid infecting their families with possible H1N1 and firefighters who thought the vaccine was not adequately tested.
Acceptance across the country has varied. For instance, more than 1,000 Washington (D.C.) Fire/EMS personnel have received the H1N1 vaccine, in addition to the seasonal flu shots.
"We began administering the H1N1 on Oct. 11, under the blessing of the D.C. Department of Health," said Pete Piringer, public-information officer for Washington (D.C.) Department of Fire/EMS. "Employees are being notified, and we have several locations where it is being made available."
Essential employees offered the vaccine in the D.C. area include police, fire and dispatch communications.
"Management has encouraged them to do so and most people are taking advantage of it," Piringer said. "Our thought is that we have sought and are following the infection control measures by the Centers for Disease Control. The district believes this is a pretty serious situation."
On the other coast, Fresno (Calif.) Fire Chief Randy Bruegman said his department won't require firefighters to take the H1N1 vaccine when it receives its supply in two weeks, anymore than the dpeartment require the annual seasonal flu vaccines.
"I think we're facing the same reactions," said Bruegman. "And I have heard the spin on the nasal versus injection."
Several Fresno first responders have been exposed to H1N1 from patients who died. Bruegman said the medical community overreacted and took an exposed crew off duty for 10 days. A day and a half later, when the patient died, the doctor claimed potential exposure for that particular crew and sent them home for ten days.
"When our workers' comp doctor heard about the crew, he had them come in a side entrance and told them to take Tamiflu," Bruegman said. "Tamiflu was out of stock for four or five days."
Bruegman urged caution with deploying the vaccine.
"Make sure your workers' compensation providers are clued in on the exposure potential," Bruegman said. There are a lot of changes everywhere on the protocols, and all of a sudden if you have three or four people out for three or four shifts it's going to get really expensive."
The Dallas Fire Department has not received its supply of vaccine yet, according to PIO Jason Evans.
"The H1N1 vaccine was originally scheduled for mid October and we were told we won't get it until mid November," he said, adding that it is certainly within employees' rights not to have the vaccine, but he's not aware of any reluctance at this time.
When the department does receive the vaccine, it will schedule a rapid inoculations drill. "Every battalion chief station will have two medics set up and for three days every station will be responsible to report," he said.
Chief Tim Beckett in Ajax, Ontario, explained they have the vaccines stockpiled, but are not allowed to distribute until Health Canada gives the approval. The Ministry of Health has identified the order in which people will receive the vaccine. Phase one is elderly, pregnant women, younger age groups and health-care workers.
"We don't fall under the health care workers," said Beckett. "First responders fall under phase two."